Health officials in Orange County are working hard to stop a single incident of typhus from becoming an outbreak. But what is typhus and how do you spot it?
Main Story: Seeking feral cats to stem typhus spread.
A child in Santa Ana was hospitalized with the condition last month, and although the child has since recovered, the county’s animal control specialists are trying to trap feral cats near two schools in the area, Frances E. Willard Intermediate School in the 1300 block of North Ross Street and El Sol Science and Arts Academy in the 1000 block of North Broadway.
It was the second case of typhus in the O.C. this year, according to Nicole Stanfield, spokeswoman for the county health department. Infections, once rare in Southern California, have been increasing steadily over the past six years, she said.
"In 2006 we started seeing an increase, and every year the numbers have gone up," Stanfield said.
Typhus infections occur when a person is bitten by the fleas or lice that carry the Rickettsia typhi or Rickettsia prowazeki bacteria. These pests live on feral animals, including rats, cats, skunks, raccoons and opossums.
There are two types of infection: murine typhus and endemic typhus. Endemic typhus, also known as “jail fever,” is less common in the United States and is more deadly.
The second type, murine typhus, has become more common in Southern California in recent years. It is far less deadly than the other type, killing about 2% of untreated patients. Prompt treatment with antibiotics will cure nearly all patients with murine typhus, according to the “Medline” website of the National Institutes of Health.
Typhus is characterized by a very high fevers of 105 to 106 degrees Fahrenheit, which may last as long as two weeks, according to NIH.
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Other symptoms include: abdominal pain, backache, diarrhea, and a dull, red rash that begins in the middle of the body and spreads, according to NIH. Sufferers may experience a hacking, dry cough, headache, joint and muscle pain, nausea and vomiting.
The disease can be fatal, but it is usually treatable with antibiotics. It can be detected through a blood test which might show, among other symptoms, a high level of typhus antibodies, low levels of sodium and albumin in the blood, or evidence of problems in the kidneys or liver. In some cases, endemic typhus can cause stupor or foggy thinking.
To avoid infection, stay away from areas where there are rats, raccoons, opossums, skunks or other carriers. If you or a child have been bitten and develop symptoms, call a doctor right away.
The illness is not related at all to typhoid fever.